I can’t be the only one who keeps hearing about Bionic Reading lately. It’s been all over my TikTok and Twitter, and even news articles have picked up on this new reading trend.
Bionic Reading promises to be a new way to read faster and comprehend deeper by a simple reformatting of your text, and with its handy dandy app or Chrome extension, you don’t even have to lift a finger to get started. But what exactly is Bionic Reading and how does it work?
What is Bionic Reading?
According to its creator, Renato Cassult, Bionic Reading is a way to combine biology and technology to make reading easier and more efficient.
The foundation of Bionic Reading is based on the idea that we only need a few letters to understand the word we’re reading. The Bionic Reading software creates “artificial fixation points” within a text by bolding the first part of each word for our eyes to jump between, “guiding the eyes” across the page and letting the brain complete the rest of the word on its own rather than having to stop and see the entirety of every word on a page. The bold parts of the word anchor your eyes and your brain fills in the rest sort of like the way we only need a first and last letter in the right place to understand a jumble of letters.
Bionic Reading could look a little something like this!
The Bionic Reading app and Google Chrome extensions allow you to vary some of the key details involved to make right for you, too. You can change how many fixation points there are in the text if it seems too cluttered for your eyes, the amount of each word that’s bolded, and the opacity of your text, along with the minutiae like font, spacing, width, and more!
How Can You Try It?
For the time being, the Bionic Reading App on the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store is free to download and test out. So is the Bionic Reading Chrome Extension. There are quite a few other extensions and apps that utilize similar software to alter text if, for whatever reason, the app and extension aren’t quite right for you!
Does it Really Help You Read, Though?
Well, TikTok seems to think so! With numerous videos getting hundreds of thousands of views and likes, the method seems to have captured the attention of readers in the BookTok community and beyond. A particular emphasis on the usefulness of the method by those with ADHD or others in the neurodivergent community claim to have found success using Bionic Reading to get through previously difficult chunks of text for work, school, or just reading for pleasure.
The scientific evidence to back it, though, is lacking. According to the Bionic Reading’s website, the method is based on the 1980 A Theory of Reading: From Eye Fixations to Comprehension by Just and Carpenter and “eye movement research” spanning back to 1905.
Bionic Reading founder Cassult conducted a small study purported to support the technology’s claims with a “positive effect” for some.
However, as many articles about the new technology point out, the sample size was only 12 people and the declared “positive effect” wasn’t elaborated on either, leaving questions about what exactly that means.
Educational psychologist Trakhman even debunked their general claim that the brain “reads faster than the eye” proposing the concept may be based on the idea of sight words, or words you memorize as a child and know by recognition rather than “by breaking down the word into individual syllables.” Trakhman also pointed out the part of reading that is the slowest isn’t perception, but processing what we’ve read. So, getting the eye moving quicker won’t necessarily increase the time it takes for our brains to process what we’ve read and understand it. She pointed to the speed-accuracy trade off which, based on a study by Wickelgren, says if you do things faster, you often do them less accurately. You don’t typically get faster reading and more comprehensive understanding in one neat new trick.
The app Readwise recently conducted a study into Bionic Reading to see what all of the social media fuss was about. In the study, they asked participants to read two 1,000-word essays, divided into Bionic and regular halves. The essays were written by the same author in the same year, and 2,074 people signed up for the study. The study found “no evidence” that Bionic Reading improved reading speed at all.
So, Should You Try It?
Well, that’s totally up to you! Just because the science isn’t certain yet doesn’t negate the people out there singing its praises. Reading is a very individualized thing, as I’m sure we all know. My Kindle settings, my reading preferences, my note taking, none of it will be the same as anyone else’s, and it’s up to me and me alone to find what works for, you guessed it, me. The same goes for you and what works best for you. If you think Bionic Reading helps you read faster or comprehend the text better, by all means, keep that extension installed.